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House votes for tighter controls on visa-free travel to US

In light of the recent attacks in California and Paris, the House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to constrict controls on travel to the United States and require visas for anyone who has been in Syria or Iraq in the last five years.

The legislation aims at the “visa waiver” program that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for stays of 90 days and less without getting a visa from a consulate or embassy first, according to The New York Times. France and Belgium, who house most of the criminals of the Paris attacks, are among those 38 countries.

The bill passed 407-19–all votes against it came from Democrats–and it will cause several changes, including a new visa requirement for citizens of Syria, Iraq or any country thought to be a terrorist hotspot along with any person who has been to a terrorist hotspot in the last five years, NY Times reports. Military service and government visits are exempt.

“We simply cannot give people from other countries special access to our country if we don’t have all the information we need to ensure they are not a threat to our national security,” said bill sponsor and Michigan Republican Candice Miller. “Obviously the world would be a very different place” than when the visa waiver program was developed, she said.

Countries in the program would also have to share counterterror information with the U.S. or be expelled from the program. Visa waiver countries would also have to issue “e-passports” with biometric information to prevent the falsification of passports, and all travelers would be verified against Interpol databases.

“You have more than 5,000 individuals that have Western passports in this program that have gone to Iraq and Syria in the last five years,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “Those are gaps that we need to fix.”

The second-ranking House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said that “House Democrats and House Republicans have no greater priority than keeping Americans safe,” while encouraging support for the measure. “That is not a partisan issue, nor is it a partisan difference,” he said.

About Meredith Rodefer

Meredith Rodefer
Meredith Rodefer is a freelance writer, who focuses on anything from lifestyle blogging to hard news, and dancer. Beyond Youth Independent, she has written for sites such as Natmonitor.com, CheekyChicago.com and FamilyFocusBlog.com. Contact Meredith: meredith.rodefer@youthindependent.com